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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Heavenly Housekeeper From Hell

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It wasn't my idea to hire a former KGB snoop as a housekeeper, but she came with the territory. Valentina, a bleach blonde fond of heavy blue eye shadow and rose-red blush, was forced into my life when I moved into a new apartment. From the moment I saw the place, I knew that I had to move in. The former occupant, a friend who worked for the Boston Globe, had sung the praises of the apartment but forgot to mention the housekeeper. The landlady also had failed to mention Valentina during our get-to-know-each-other meeting.

When I was ready to sign a one-year contract, however, she marched in with Valentina in tow and told me that no housekeeper meant no apartment. I asked about Valentina's monthly salary and learned that my friend had paid her $150 a month to clean twice a week.

Valentina had been brought to the building by a previous tenant, and the landlady had liked the guarantee of an immaculate apartment so much that her services had been thrust on every occupant since.

I looked at the high ceilings, white-painted walls and the Moscow River flowing outside the window and signed the lease.

A week after moving in, I got a call from Valentina, who said I would have to pay $200 a month. I protested, saying $150 was already high and although I had never had a housekeeper in my life I knew the market rate was closer to $50 to $100.

Then Valentina had her say, and I got an inkling that she was no ordinary housekeeper. Shrieking into the telephone receiver, she told me she came with the highest qualifications for the job and would never work at market rates. She mopped, ironed, vacuumed and washed clothes better than anyone, she said. And if I ever threw a party, she could prepare a feast. She said she had worked as a housekeeper for UpDK, the Foreign Ministry agency that, among other things, had exclusively supplied foreigners with household help in Soviet times. Most UpDK staff had served as the eyes and ears of the KGB in foreigners' homes.

Before that, Valentina had flown Aeroflot as a flight attendant. Her husband had been a pilot.

I was not convinced.

"Find yourself a different housekeeper then," Valentina said curtly, and hung up the phone.

A moment later, the landlady was screaming into the phone that I could pack my bags and move right out if I refused to meet Valentina's terms.

I looked out the window, and the Moscow River looked particularly enchanting, with the sun dancing on the pale-green water in the late afternoon sun. I relented. A mollified Valentina rang me and said she would come back in three weeks, after a paid vacation.

On her return, she turned around the closets and cupboards. The boxes and cans of food were in the wrong places and she moved them. Dishes, pots and pans got the same treatment. She didn't like where the microwave oven stood and moved it three times before letting me have my way.

"The microwave looks better on this counter," she said after moving it the first time.

After the third time I moved it back, she said, "Well, fine, but the last person who lived here kept the microwave on the other counter."

A close friend's birthday soon rolled around and I asked Valentina to plan a party. No problem, she said, and asked for $200 for groceries and $100 for the extra work. We celebrated at Planet Hollywood.

After a few months, Valentina began to find ways to help out that went beyond cleaning. She brought over large jars of homemade pickles and jam. On days when I was particularly overworked, she whipped up batches of mouthwatering borshch and shchi. A friend wanted a foreign-travel passport, and for $300 she secured one through her friends. She refused to elaborate about her UpDK past. She only said she had resigned from the agency in the late 1980s.

Meanwhile, the landlady, who had been ill for several months, died, and I changed apartments. I brought Valentina along in tow.

Andrew McChesney is deputy editor of The Moscow Times.